By Bill Studenc MPA '10
Theatrical stages from coast to coast may have gone dark in this time of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but that has not stopped the folks from the School of Stage and Screen at Western Carolina University from sharing their talents with the public. In the grand tradition of “the show must go on,” WCU students and faculty presented William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” via Zoom, the videoconferencing service that has exploded in popularity as millions of students and workers find themselves studying and working remotely because of the coronavirus crisis.
George Brown, dean of WCU’s David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts and director of the “Zooming Shakespeare” production, billed the presentation as “a 21st-century way of performing during the plague.” Or, to twist a line from the late Mickey Rooney, “Hey, kids, you have internet access. Let’s put on a show!”
Fifteen students and two faculty members from the School of Stage and Screen rehearsed the Shakespeare comedy over Zoom, with students logging in from homes, some as far away as Oregon, New York and New Jersey, Brown said.
“For approximately two hours every night, we joined together in this virtual space to rehearse the play in ways not so different as we would in a face-to-face setting — focusing on character, action and language. We played a little with physicality as well, but that was limited by our being tethered to the computer,” he said. “We called this event a ‘performed reading’ utilizing a standardized costume and some props. We discovered a way to virtually pass props.”
The troupe raised the curtain — virtually — on its production April 17, working with Samuel Wallace ’16, a graduate of WCU’s motion picture and television production program, and director of photo and video production in University Communications and Marketing.
“I am really proud of the students, faculty and professional staff who worked together to share this virtual performance with our community both near and far,” Brown said. “The COVID-19 pandemic hit the arts across the country like a punch in the stomach. Theaters, museums, galleries and concert halls across the country are shutting down. I receive notices every day of another closure.”
Several students involved in the production saw their summer employment opportunities vanish because shows have been canceled and venues have been shuttered, he said. “This production was an act of creative defiance against the pandemic,” Brown said. “As a theater artist, I find reassurance in knowing that, although the Elizabethan theater was repeatedly shut down due to the plague, it survived as a vibrant and active community of artists that included Shakespeare. This pandemic will pass. This production of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ was a small example of how passion, creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit will lead in our recovery.”
The production streamed on the WCU School of Stage and Screen Facebook page and the main WCU YouTube channel, as well as the university’s main Facebook channel and the Bardo Arts Center Facebook channel. Links to several of those social media channels, along with additional event details, can be found at arts.wcu.edu/virtual.
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” tells the tale of the King of Navarre and his friends, who take an oath to dedicate themselves to a life of study and avoid the company of women for three years. Soon after their pledge, the Princess of France and her ladies-in-waiting arrive, presenting the men with a severe test of their resolve.